a multitude of friends
“Whoever is not against us is for us” –Jesus
Ours is a rather troubled time, after 9/11, and with so much violence seemingly all around: in Syria, and the Ukraine, African nations—and on our own streets, and sometimes our own families. It becomes too easy to see enemies virtually everywhere.
But the Gospel invites us to quite a different way of seeing. Jesus affirms: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.” That is amazing in its implications! Psychologists suggest that when we meet a person for the first time, our first question to ourselves, at least at the unconscious level can be this: “Is this person potentially for me or against me?” Well, Jesus’ approach broadens the possibilities. If the person isn’t explicitly against me, explicitly against Christ, that person can be seen to be in some way for me.
The apostles were into a religious form of in-group exclusivism in the Gospel when they complained that someone who was not of their group was casting out demons, in Jesus’ name! A very positive action. Still, for the apostles, he was not of their group, so they tried to prevent him. And thus Jesus’ very different response: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
There are huge implications for ecumenical dialogue here. Not too long ago, Roman Catholics tended to look upon any other Church or Denomination as “those others,” rivals, even feel hostile towards them. An older nun told me that when she was growing up, in a good Catholic family, if they were out walking and saw that they would pass near a non Catholic Church, they would cross over the street to pass on the other side, in order to witness to their negative views of that church. Now, after Vatican II, and its “Decree on Ecumenism,” she is on the diocesan ecumenical committee, and often visits, other churches, for meetings, and pulpit sharing etc. With the ecumenical dialogue we have come to remember that al the baptized share in the one body of Christ, and in the love of Christ, of the Gospel, and we share therefore so many things. Those “others” are more “for us” in Christ than we might have imagined.
Beyond ecumenism, what about the inter-religious dialogue? Fr. William Johnston, S.J., who did his doctorate on the “Cloud of Unknowing,” and wrote beautifully about Christian contemplative spirituality, taught for decades in Japan, and was part of the official Christian/Zen dialogue. He noted that at the level of what we would call contemplative prayer, or meditation, there are amazing resonances between Christian and Zen spirituality. And he was amazed by the deep reverence of so many Buddhists, monastics and lay, for Jesus. They are “for Jesus,” and so “for us.” The leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, has written an amazing book entitled: “The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus.” And there again, deep love of Jesus, and therefore, “for us.” Gandhi deeply appreciated Jesus and the Gospels. He was a tad perplexed that so few Christians seemed to live up to them, but there you are.
What about people who have a hard time signing on to any religion, but who are very committed to acting uprightly, doing good for others, following carefully their informed conscience? And who very often they respect Jesus? The famous Jesuit theologian Fr. Karl Rahner would say that they are “anonymous Christians,” and Pope Francis, another Jesuit, would agree. We can extend a hand of friendship to them, as Pope Francs does. In many ways they also are for us.
What about just nature—trees and birds and dogs and cats, and hills and mountains, and rivers and ocean? There was a time not long ago when anything at a merely “natural” level would be considered possibly distraction, if not outright evil temptation, to a committed Christian’s spiritual life. It was thought important for Christians to live as exclusively as possible on the “spiritual” level, the “supernatural” level. But most Christians now have largely moved to a more Incarnational spirituality, rediscovering Jesus’ nature teachings, about the birds of the air and the lilies Of the field, the small mustard seed, and vines and wheat. Jesus loved nature and felt it could be vehicle for understanding his sublime teachings. Then the later New Testament epistles teach that all of nature has been created in and through and for Christ. Our rich subsequent theology affirms the same, including St. Thomas Aquinas’ teaching that grace is built on nature, requires nature, does not destroy nature. We can make our own St. Francis’ wonderful “Canticle of the Creatures” and invoke “brother sun and sister moon.” Nature also is in so many ways for us! (Indeed, we are an integral part of nature).
Clearly we still have enemies, evil forces maybe within us, like arrogance and prejudice, envy, rancor, and addictions of many sorts, etc. But we have so many more friends than we might have realized, so many people and other creatures of God, not against Christ and not against us.
And so for Christ, for us.